Lead Stories

Good reporting: Moving from suite-level to street-level

"Good reporting: Moving from suite-level to street-level" Continued...

The housing counselor said Obama was making things worse rather than better: People were calling him and saying “Obama promised” this or that. The counselor said, “He can’t come through without wrecking the whole system. Seems to me, if you can’t produce, don’t give people false hopes. People who want to refinance need some equity, but most of the people in need have no equity in their homes. Should the banks just hand out money?”

He showed me a high-rise condo near downtown Fort Myers: Five units occupied, and the other 95 of them might as well have “welcome, thieves” doormats. He said more people are just walking away from their investments, breaking their contract and ruining their credit rating but saving money that they can then use for rent: “That’s tough, but it wouldn’t help for the federal government to force the lenders to write off every debt. The banks would be bankrupt. Besides, you’d have a lot of people taking advantage. Next time there’d be even more recklessness.”

After showing the streets, I could then go discuss with greater credibility the view from the suites: “The Obama administration keeps fine-tuning its requirements for lenders. Since last April the administration has released new requirements nine times and made 90 clarifications, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. On Jan. 27, as Fort Myers residents were lining up for help, the MBA pleaded with the administration to refrain from ‘endless incremental program changes,’ since every change ‘forced mortgage companies to implement new procedures and retrain employees, taking away time that could be spent helping borrowers.’”

Exercises

1. Mark Kramer writes, “You call a surgeon and say, ‘I hear you’re doing a new kind of neck surgery, and I’d like to find out more about it.’ He says, ‘Fine. I have time for a cup of coffee Thursday afternoon at two o’clock.’ You need to say, ‘I don’t want an interview. I want to watch you living your normal day. What about Wednesday when you’re too busy to see me? I won’t be a bother. I’ll just follow you around.’” Richard Preston similarly says, “I want to see the person in the lab, out in the field doing research. That way I get to tag along and be introduced to everyone in that person’s world.”

Tag along with a friend or relative for an hour or two as that person is engaged in his regular activities. Then write several paragraphs of description, quoting the person rarely or not at all, but showing his interactions with others.

2. Many young journalists interview someone and then turn in stories filled with quotations. But veteran journalist Gay Talese says, “I like to do interviews someplace where I can see the person interact with others. I don’t care too much who it is: your wife, your girlfriend, or a belly dancer you’re involved with. I think of it in terms of the camera: what works visually.”

Interview a friend or a relative where you can see his interaction. Then write several paragraphs about the person without including any quotations. Think visually.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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